Tuesday, 30 July 2013

6pm on 2nd September - The London Cycling Campaign "space for cycling" ride in support of the Parliamentary debate on cycling on the same day. You really need to be there.

The 'tunnel of death'. Believe it or not, this is Boris's Cycle Way into the City of London. The bike way is underneath the lorry on the left. That lorry, incidentally, is turning right.
This morning I cycled to work, as I do most days, through the 'tunnel of death'. It's a narrow passage way created between two lanes of lorries and buses pictured above. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the main entrance to the City of London as you cycle over Southwark Bridge on one of Boris's expensively-constructed Cycle Super Highways. Bikes go straight ahead. Lorries in the left and right lanes are both turning right.

You can't hang back behind the traffic here and wait until it's safer to cycle through: A bike track spits you out into the queue of traffic, most of which is occupying the blue paint under that lorry. That blue paint is supposedly a bike lane. The thing is poorly thought-through. And it's lethal. It would also be incredibly simple to redesign this junction to work more safely but that's not going to happen for several years, if at all.

Another way for me to get to work is along Ludgate Hill, also in the City of London. Most days, that would involve cycling through the police chicane. Here's an image of the police chicane in action: The road narrows into a sort of zigzag where buses and lorries swoosh past you. If you're super fit and young, you race to try and get in front of the lorries. If not, you give up or you just get squashed by the road design, lucky you.

City of London police chicane where people on bikes are meant to 'merge' with lorries and buses 
As it happens, the City is proposing to build a brand new chicane exactly like the one pictured above as part of a multimillion redesign of the streets around Aldgate. As Rachel Aldred points out in an extremely balanced post, much of the scheme is an improvement, but the bulk of the scheme "builds in unacceptable risks for any cyclist unfortunate enough to have to use it". Her useful question, one that I bang my head against the wall on again and again is this: "How come these designs keep coming back, like Freddy in the Nightmare on Elm Street series?"

I think Rachel is absolutely right to talk about the fact that roads are being designed with 'unacceptable risk' for people using bikes as transport.

The fact is that the majority of cycle trips will be happening for years to come on roads that are not being made cycle-friendly. What's worse, many roads are actually being made worse for cycling. The Crown Estate is going ahead with its plans to narrow Haymarket and Lower Regent Street in central London which will make it even more intimidating to cycle north-south through the West End. It's true that the Crown Estate is supporting investment in an alternative route for cycling through Soho and is saying nice things about how bicycle transport is important for businesses in towns and cities but that alternative route is just a theory at the moment with no funding and no timetable.

The fact is that London's "Cycling Revolution" is still very much in its infancy and in a very fragile state. Early this year, the Mayor announced a series of initiatives. The key initiatives are:

  • Mini-Hollands in outer London - investment in a handful of areas to make cycling a strategic transport choice
  • A central London bike grid
  • A segregated cycle highway from west to east London 
  • A network of Quiet Ways for cycling in other parts of London

This is also a London cycle 'super' highway. It's underneath the coaches which park there at rush hour. Lovely to be squeezed between the coaches and the oil tankers here every day. 
Some of these things are beginning to creak into action. For example, earlier this week Hounslow published its pitch to receive funding for a mini-Holland network of better cycling and walking networks and it's pretty impressive stuff. The new, properly segregated Cycle Super Highway is already under construction between Bow and Stratford. And there a number of other initiatives under way to get the central London bike grid starting to happen.

But what's important to note is that (with the exception of the Bow cycle way) these schemes are still only concepts at the moment. None of them is guaranteed. It's not clear, for example, whether London will ever get that safe and sensible bike route through the centre of the West End (which is, frankly, embarrassing). And for those of you outside London, virtually nothing is happening. In the town I'm from, for example, the council had produced detailed plans to build a couple of miles of very low standard bike lanes (on shared use pavements) but these have recently been scrapped in a cost cutting measure.

Over the past few weeks, thousands of people have participated in protest rides at the scenes of recent cyclist deaths at Aldgate and Holborn - areas where people on bikes are dumped in to the middle of multi-lane junctions with no safe space for cycling - to insist that things really do have to change. As far as I'm aware, no-one is thinking about whether the complete dogs breakfast at Holborn needs to be redesigned. If it's not already on the list of possible Mayoral initiatives, nothing is going to change at Holborn for at least five years, possibly 10 more years. That pace of change just doesn't feel good enough for me and I think we need to show that we are impatient for change, we don't want to have to wait 10 more years for another hundred or so people to be needlessly killed because they have no choice other than to cycle through ridiculously designed road junctions. In short, we want to see meaningful change in London and elsewhere, that will allow people to chose the bicycle as a sensible form of transport.

AsEasyAsRidingABike blog put it excellently last week: "People want to ride bikes; to make short trips around towns and cities. They are being frustrated".

These are people who want to cycle. Normal everyday people doing normal everyday things. But they are being prevented from doing so by lack of initiative from government and local authorities to create conditions where this sort of thing is the norm. It looks normal, people want it to be normal, we need pressure to make politicians make this sort of thing standard, at any time, in any town. Pic courtesy AsEasyAsRidingABike

It's time to show that we're frustrated and want things to change.

On Monday 2nd September, MPs will be debating safer cycling in Parliament. The London Cycling Campaign has called for people to join a ride in support of the debate that evening to coincide with the debate. They're calling, sensibly, for 'safe space for cycling'. This is absolutely the right thing to do. If you can, please join. We need thousands of people to join the ride. We also need people to petition their MPs to attend the debate. There's a simple form to help you write to your MP on The Times's website. It takes two minutes to do.

The London Cycling Campaign Ride gathers at 6pm in Jubilee Gardens behind the Millenium Wheel (near Waterloo) for a 6.30pm departure. There will be feeder rides from all over London and the route will be well marshalled from start to finish. Please put it in your diaries and make sure to join the ride. It's critically important we show our MPs and our Mayor that this is something we're not going to let go away.

Route of the London Cycling Campaign Space For Cycling ride on 2nd September at 6pm. You should be there. 


  1. Agreed. We shouldn't have to wait years for improvements. As I remember, the junction at the start of your post was significantly improved during the Olympics with just a coned-off bike lane. That just takes an evening to implement.

    Then there's two-way working for bikes in one way streets, allowing cyclists to avoid dangerous junctions - which should be the norm across London. 20 mph speed limits should also be the norm across zone 1 at least. Filtered permeability would allow many central London rat-runs to become safe routes for cyclists (Wardour St, for example..). Existing cycle lanes should be widened, made mandatory, and work 24/24 (for example, the narrow and dangerous cycle lane on Vauxhall Bridge southbound could be widened to a 2m mandatory lane tonight. Why isn't this happening?

  2. CS7 is a joke TBH, I caught "great" video of the perils at the Tunnel of Death yesterday and have another to post from the southbound return leg from the other side of the river where the cycle lane carries on straight towards E&C and traffic is meant to turn left across you. In that instance some moron in his white van just slowly overtook me before cutting in front as we approached A RED LIGHT! I passed him 5m down the road sat still and he didn't seem to bothered to respond to my "great job cutting me up" remark...

    If they designed roads with the same lack of consideration and forethought for motorists as they did cycle lanes for cars there would be uproar.

  3. This is from one of your earlier blogs: "The Dutch road safety institute said very clearly in 2011, that the only way [my emphasis] to remove the danger from roads like Cycle Super Highway 2 is to enforce a "structural separation of trucks and cyclists". We won't remove the danger just by talking about it or, as the Mayor seems to think, by having more people on two wheels merrily pedalling around the lorries and buses. This is why I think the London Cycling Campaign is absolutely right to call for "clear space for cycling on our streets". What that means is safe space for cycling on our main roads, the places people want and need to go, not just on our city's backstreets."

    What it also means, to quote David Arditti, is "we have to take lanes out of main roads in places like Holborn and allocate them to protected space for cycling."

    Given all the advantages attached to the use of the bicycle in the built-up area, and all the disadvantages attached to the use of the private car, this seems to me to be an entirely reasonable thing to be done, but even with all the will in the world, this way forward is going to take time.

    Besides, as a fairly interested observer of the Mayor, he seems to be very much of the opinion that if he tried to emulate, say, Enrique Peñalosa in Bogotá, he would never win another election again. For all I know to the contrary, he may very well be right.

    You quote Rachel Aldred's "useful question", and say it is "one that I bang my head against the wall on again and again".

    My "head-banger question" is why are roads like Theobalds Road and Blackfriars Road and Tottenham Court Road and Aldgate High Street no longer part of a cycle network?

    You also write: "We don't want to have to wait 10 more years for another hundred or so people to be needlessly killed because they have no choice other than to cycle through ridiculously designed road junctions."

    Now, as some wise old sausage once said, "The prudent man would sooner trust to two securities than to one." The Dutch certainly take this view. Their cycle networks are developed around a combination of main road routes (treated) and back street routes (traffic-calmed), as The Cycling Dutchman confirms. So it's not a case of one or the other, but a combination of the both, and then let users decide which route suits them best.

    In London, cyclists effectively have "no choice other than to cycle through ridiculously designed road junctions", whereas in the Netherlands, they have two choices: they can either avoid the junction altogether, or they can cycle through the junction using well-designed facilities.

    Developing the latter takes time, as this blog acknowledges, and yet the LCC seems to be obsessed with this difficult-to-deliver demand. I don't get it. Are they the voice of cyclists, or are they the voice of might-do cyclists, or would-be cyclists? Why are they not insisting that the authorities do as much as possible as quickly as possible to ameliorate the worst effects of outdated mobility policies? I just don't get it.

    1. I'm not sure what you don't get. I think the LCC now have a very clear position. In London, after many decades of campaigning, we currently have a mix of 'quiet back routes' (much of the LCN/LCN+) and inadequate infrastructure on main roads with no attention paid to junctions (including pretty much all of the 'superhighways' except for those elements that were already in place)

      The back routes are not properly traffic calmed - they are still allowed to be rat runs - and are not direct so are often undesirable for utility cyclists. It's not possible to actually get anywhere without dealing with the main roads and junctions where cyclists needs have not been considered.

      The LCC position is now that this is no longer good enough. The easy stuff has now been shown to fail over a number of decades - it's time to start doing the job properly.

      As pointed out above - this doesn't have to take time. Major changes were made to the London Road network in a matter of days for the Olympics. Temporary barriers could create safe space for cyclists overnight.

    2. Fuck this for a game of soldiers. Seriously, fuck this.

      After many decades of campaigning, we currently have a mix of 'quiet back routes' (much of the LCN/LCN+) and inadequate infrastructure on main roads with no attention paid to junctions (including pretty much all of the 'superhighways' except for those elements that were already in place).

      What a load of bollocks. After many decades of campaigning ... Ha! Fuck this.

      The LCC position is now that this is no longer good enough. Fuck this an' all.

      The easy stuff has now been shown to fail over a number of decades - it's time to start doing the job properly.

      Fuck this.

      And stop saying the LCN+ was mainly on back streets! It wasn't. So stop saying it.

      The extent to which you lot deceive yourselves literally knows no bounds. Fuck this.

      It's network first, and then a separation of functions. You get the network up and running - which ought to be the easy bit, but which was never attended to, and which is still not going to be attended to, because fuck knows why - and then you move towards segregation on the main roads and traffic-calming on the back streets. Got it?

      After many decades of campaigning we currently have a mix of 'quiet back routes' and inadequate infrastructure on main roads with no attention paid to junctions. What a load of shite. Fuck this.

    3. Well said bikemapper. LCC "decades of campaigning" and here we are still cycle through crap.

      Even now ....
      Tottenham High Road mega redevelopment nearing completion.

      5 LANES MOTOR TRAFFIC & VAST PAVEMENTS. I have complained and been told in writing, "The reason for a lack of a southbound cycle lane is due to traffic capacity"

      How did we let the bureaucrats get away with this?

    4. The Vole said how Johan Diepens of the Dutch Cycling Embassy made the point that in planning for cycling, the critical thing is to design your network correctly. Everything else, he said, was trivial.

      I am convinced that a big part of the problem is that roads like Tottenham Court Road are allowed to be developed in isolation. As Dom Nozzi put it: "In part, public planning agencies have no vision because they are drowning in minutiae."

      The Vole also said: "Lets rapidly assess which are the main central London routes that have the largest numbers of cyclists on (it would only take a day or two to do that, most of the information has probably been collected already, and LCC would help)."

      The LCC would help, would they? Great stuff. Let's get moving then, shall we? Let's do something constructive between now and the protest ride.

  4. I've lived in the Netherlands for almost a decade and can confidently say that cycle provision here is a complete joke and is obviously not changing. Why aren't the LCC planning some proper disruption rather than these small protest rides?

    1. I asked that question to LCC official at the Holborn flash ride. They didn't want to disrupt the traffic!

      Yet the fatal accident caused High Holborn to be closed for the entire day....

  5. I read Boris Johnson has the sheer nerve to be turning up to one of the protest bicycle events this weekend. This is the man who makes big announcements about cycling improvements to pretend he's doing something about it, and yet the desperately needed improvements wont happen for many many years, by which time of course the plans will have been cancelled and he wont be mayor anymore.

    Talk about spin, this man is a true spin-doctor, and gives us a performance that is calculated and mis-leads the public into thinking he's really doing something when he isnt.

    For him to come on the cycle ride, as the man who is deliberately holding back the cycling improvements from being carrired out in full next year or 2014, he should be booed. He's pretending he's supporting cycling, but he's deliberately delaying getting the cycling improvements we all want carrired out in full. What a nerve!

    So we need a 'boo boris' campaign. If you see him on the protest ride, trying to mingle with the very cyclists he is actually holding down, then boo him, and let him know he's just not good enough and we see through his fake support.

    Boo boris! We voted for a mayor who can do a proper job for cyclists right now, by giving us the the improvement we want, in full. Instead he's given us big announcements, and then delays and delays and half-jobs and more delays. He knows this, but is pretending to be our supporter.

    If you see boris, boo him.

  6. One of the causes behind the seemingly poor provision of cycle infrastructure (apart from the ancient origins of the city!) is that cyclists don't have much of a mandate with TFL and the Mayor's office. While we are represented by a cycling commissioner we don't pay any road tax whatsoever. So we'll always play second fiddle to every other road user. Not that I'm all that keen to give even more of my money to the government but if we paid a nominal road tax (maybe something similar to Band B, without a first year rate but with a small discount to account for the fact we don't emit anything), then according to the "money talks" principle we'd at least have a bit more of a voice than we have now. Now, I'm not sure if the costs of enforcement and other practicalities make it worthwhile (not to mention the reduction in casual cyclists), but the principle is there; we are service users and should therefore pay for it.

    1. pedrodude, road tax, really? This of all places should be full of slightly more educated people, do some reading here: http://ipayroadtax.com/